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A New Look at the Solar Corona

Tuesday, October 16th 2018 01:15 PM

A view of the solar corona during the 2015 total solar eclipse in Svalbard, Norway. S. Habbal, M. Druckmüller and P. Aniol A STEREO View NASA’s STEREO has observed the solar atmosphere and solar wind — including coronal mass ejections like the one pictured here — for over a decade. NASA/STEREO   Despite the wealth of knowledge we’ve amassed about our nearest star, there is still a lot we don’t know about the corona — the uppermost region of the solar atmosphere. Previous observations of the outer corona have indicated that the region is smooth and lacking in small-scale structure — but is it really? To learn more about the outer corona, a team led by Craig DeForest (Southwest Research Institute) analyzed images from a special observing campaign by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory-A (STEREO-A). In a departure from its typical observing mode, STEREO-A increased its imaging cadence by a factor of fo...

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The five brightest planets align in the night sky

Monday, October 15th 2018 02:42 PM

  For the second time this year, the five brightest planets in our solar system — Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars — will be visible in the night sky, at the same time.The planets will form a line that rises up from the horizon in the western sky and it will be easiest to see after sunset this Thursday, October 18. However, all month these planets will be visible in the same general areas of the sky.Mercury and Venus will be most visible west and closer to the horizon, while Saturn will be higher up in the sky and northwest, Mars will be visible even higher. The night of October 18, Venus and Mercury will be side-by-side. Because Mercury is the faintest and hardest to see of these planets, having ultra-bright Venus by its side will make Mercury much easier to see.Later in the month, on October 24, you might also be able to see Uranus and Neptune in the night sky — they just might be a little more difficult to spot.This fantastic sight doesn&...

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The Jesuit astronomer who conceived of the Big Bang

Saturday, October 13th 2018 11:57 AM

  In 1927, a prescient astronomer named Georges Lemaître looked at data showing how galaxies move. He noticed something peculiar – all of them appeared to be speeding away from Earth. Not only that, but the farther away they were, the faster they went. He determined a mathematical way to represent this, and connected his relationship to Einstein’s law of General Relativity to produce a grand idea: That of a universe continually expanding. It was a radical idea then, but today it fits with our conception of a universe spawned by a Big Bang.If you’re an astronomy trivia buff, the name associated with the Big Bang is Edwin Hubble, who also has a rather famous telescope named after himself. Hubble also came up with the concept, but Lemaître beat him to the punch, though his idea got little attention at the time. Now, he may finally share in the recognition for his revolutionary theory.It’s too late to rename the Hubble Space Telescope,...

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How did Titan get its haze?

Friday, October 12th 2018 01:46 PM

Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is enveloped in a thick, hazy atmosphere. One new research collaboration has identified a chemical mechanism that could help to explain how the moon's haze formed.   Titan's Haze Both space probes and land-based instruments have identified the chemical composition of the major constituents of the haze,” said Musahid Ahmed, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division and co-leader of the study. “However, how some of heavier particles are formed from the lighter gases is still an open question.” Scientists in the Chemical Sciences Division at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) reached a conclusion that disagrees with existing theories suggesting that super hot chemical reactions are behind the chemical makeup of Titan’s hazy atmosphere. The team at Berkley Lab has found that these theories are “not possible in the low temperature environs of T...

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Black holes can't explain dark matter

Friday, October 12th 2018 01:41 PM

  The hunt for a dark matter explanation seems endless, but now we can mostly rule out one often mentioned potential culprit: black holes.“The idea of primordial black holes as dark matter is quite old, with some papers already in the ’70s when Stephen Hawking and others proposed it,” said lead study. author Miguel Zumalacárregui of the Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics. Scientists couldn’t find any proof for the idea in the ’90s, and it started to fade away as an explanation. But the 2015 detection of gravitational waves re-ignited consideration for black holes as an explanation for dark matter.Now, after analyzing 740 of the brightest supernovae, or exploding massive stars, discovered since 2014, scientists have found none that appear to be magnified or brightened by black hole “gravitational lenses.” Gravitational lenses are an effect where black holes magnify bright objects behind them.“Our statistical analy...

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  According to Sir Richard Branson, founder of the space tourism company Virgin Galactic, their latest spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo, will bne in space in a matter of weeks.“We should be in space within weeks, not months. And then we will be in space with myself in months and not years,” Branson told CNBC on Tuesday in Singapore. “We will be in space with people not too long after that, so we have got a very, very exciting couple of months ahead,” he added. Branson has not yet officially expanded on these comments.Branson’s bold claims signal that Virgin Galactic may once again be a serious contender in the current space race with SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin. But is there any truth to Branson’s assertions?   Virgin Galactic moving on from tragedy Earlier this year, the company completed a test flight with its SpaceShipTwo passenger plane. This was a positive step forward after Virgin Galactic's 2014 fa...

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NASA Voyager 2 Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space

Monday, October 8th 2018 02:06 PM

  NASA's Voyager 2 probe, currently on a journey toward interstellar space, has detected an increase in cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 is a little less than 11 billion miles (about 17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth, or more than 118 times the distance from Earth to the Sun.  Since 2007 the probe has been traveling through the outermost layer of the heliosphere -- the vast bubble around the Sun and the planets dominated by solar material and magnetic fields. Voyager scientists have been watching for the spacecraft to reach the outer boundary of the heliosphere, known as the heliopause. Once Voyager 2 exits the heliosphere, it will become the second human-made object, after Voyager 1, to enter interstellar space.  Since late August, the Cosmic Ray Subsystem instrument on Voyager 2 has measured about a 5 percent increase in the rate of cosmic rays hitting the spacecraft compared to early August. The probe's...

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Saturn's ring rain is a downpour, not a drizzle

Monday, October 8th 2018 01:54 PM

Before it plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn on its final death dive, the Cassini spacecraft made 22 orbits of the planet that followed a path no probe had taken before: It flew between the massive planet and its rings. During those final orbits, Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) spotted water ice and complex organic molecules flowing from the rings to the atmosphere of the planet: ring rain. But it turns out, “ring rain is more like a ring downpour,” according to Hunter Waite of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), lead author of a paper on the findings published October 4 in Science. The rain itself wasn’t a surprise. “Based on previous work, scientists expected water was raining from the rings into Saturn's atmosphere,” said study co-author Kelly Miller, also of SwRI. She added that the spacecraft was even oriented in a way to intentionally use its radio antenna “as an umbrella to protect it...

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Using NASA’s Hubble and Kepler space telescopes, astronomers have uncovered tantalizing evidence of what could be the first discovery of a moon orbiting a planet outside our solar system.   This moon candidate, which is 8,000 light-years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation, orbits a gas-giant planet that, in turn, orbits a star called Kepler-1625. Researchers caution that the moon hypothesis is tentative and must be confirmed by follow-up Hubble observations.   “This intriguing finding shows how NASA’s missions work together to uncover incredible mysteries in our cosmos,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters, Washington. “If confirmed, this finding could completely shake up our understanding of how moons are formed and what they can be made of.”   Since moons outside our solar system – known as exomoons – cannot be imaged dire...

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  There are a number of theories about how life began on Earth, but one new study published October 3 in ACS Nano suggests that the building blocks of life could have been created with liquid crystals. Liquid crystals have properties of both conventional liquids and solids — they flow like a liquid, but their molecular structure is ordered and symmetric like a solid crystal. You’re likely familiar with them already — liquid crystal display (LCD) screens are used in a multitude of common tech products like computer monitors and television screens. The same state of matter that makes your television screen light up may have played a role in sparking life on Earth. In one new study, scientists found that short RNA molecules can form liquid crystals, which motivate growth into longer chains that are required for life to develop. Today, DNA holds our genetic blueprints and RNA carries out its instructions. But leading scientific theori...

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